Xhosa tradition is an extremely powerful social force binding these people of the Eastern Cape. It is most evident in Xhosa beliefs based on ancestor reverence. The original ancestor is Tshawe, but it is others that are called upon for guidance, support and to turn the tide of favour.

Did you know?

Xhosa tradition states that we are all descended from one ancestor known as Tshawe.

Xhosa traditions remain strong amongst these very proud people.

The Xhosa number approximately 7,1 million people, the majority of whom live in the Eastern Cape. They are descended from the Nguni, who migrated from central and northern Africa. They comprise a number of clans such as Gcaleka, Ngika, Ndlambe, Dushane, Qayi and the Gqunkhwebe of Khoisan origin.

Enchantment winds through the Xhosa language, dress and rituals. Their language is often called the ‘click' language because of its three dominant clicks, which came about when the Xhosa mixed with the Khoisan.

In Xhosa culture the women are easily recognised by their heavy dress, matching turban and coloured dots decorating their faces. If a woman has children, whom she has raised to be adults, then it is usual to find her seated among her peers smoking a long-handled pipe.

Beadwork similar to the Ndebele is an integral aspect of Xhosa tradition. It forms part of the ornamentation that reflects the different stages of a woman's life. A certain headdress will be a worn by a newly married girl, while a woman who has just given birth to her first child will wear a different-styled headdress.

Xhosa beliefs recognise the presence of ancestral spirits and a supreme authority. The spirits of those who have passed on are honoured in rituals and ceremonies. They are called upon for guidance, support and to turn the tide of favour. The ceremonial slaughtering of animals is one of the many ways by which ancestors are invoked.

Xhosa beliefs dictate that people turn to a diviner or healer, usually attired in a headdress and shawl of fur, when needing advice on how to deal with the spirits, help with illnesses, or ward off evil from unnatural forces such as the tokoloshe − a potentially malevolent goblin who attacks at night. Other figures are the huge lightning bird (impundudu), and the gentle abantu bomlambo − aquatic human-like beings who accept into their family those who drown.